You spend days, months, years collecting miles and when it finally comes to using them some airlines insist that you pay "fuel surcharges", which are complete bulls*it. The price of oil has gone down, yet the fuel surcharges remain the same or higher. Every airline "calculates" charges differently with some far worse than others. Though you will always end up forking out something on an award ticket, a few bucks is better than a few hundred or a few thousand!
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are my focus here today because they are among the worst in taxes and fees for most, but not all flights. In dealing with them we will encompass Delta, Iberia, Aer Lingus, AirBerlin and Avios.com. Unfortunately for some, the simplest way to avoid terrible taxes and fees is simply to not fly in or out of the UK. A round trip flight from the the US to the UK in Business class using Virgin Atlantic or British Airways awards both presently require 80,000 miles and $1,123.60 or $1,164.00 respectively. At that rate, you might as well just buy a ticket. Using your British Airways miles to fly from places like America to South America would mean taxes and fuel charges of only around $60 per person. That's more than a thousand dollar difference and maddening for the majority of BA mileage collectors in the UK! To put this into perspective, I've never paid more than $300 in taxes and fees on any award, some far more complex than a simple round trip to the UK.
Regardless of origin, you can beat the system for both by using, transferring or collecting alternate miles and flying on partners. Even if you are flying on Virgin Atlantic or British Airways, you can earn miles from one of their partners instead. You can use Delta Skymiles to book Virgin Upper Class awards right on Delta.com with far less in surcharges than Virgin Atlantic's own currency. Delta is a transfer and credit card partner of American Express so if you had a regular Amex and a Delta Amex, you could bundle up on points quickly. Though the Delta Awards require 125,000 miles round trip compared to 80,000 using Virgin Atlantic miles, the taxes are only $295, a tremendous savings.
British Airways does not add fuel surcharges to flights on AirBerlin, Aer Lingus, Alaska and LAN nor for any American Airlines flights in North America or South America. As a point of reference, you can fly Aer Lingus Business Class round trip from Dublin to Boston for only 50,000 Avios and less than £100 in taxes. If that's not your cup of tea, you can transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia to beat surcharges and book nearly all the same flights (or more) through Iberia Avios. Iberia's program offers access to most of the same airlines (minus Aer Lingus) and eliminates similarly significant surcharges while being able to utilize your pre existing British Airways miles. To transfer from BA to Iberia, use this link. In order to transfer between British Airways and Iberia, you need to have active accounts open with both parties for at least three months. As I've encouraged before, you should always join any and all frequent flier programs, they are free and you never know when you might need one! If you haven't ever earned any miles with Iberia, you need to create a few before you can transfer between British Airways Avios and Iberia Avios. To do so, I highly recommend transferring 1,000 amex points, crediting a future short flight on the One World Alliance, or doing some online portal shopping.
Once your account has been active for three months you are able to move points freely between the programs at will. This creates excellent opportunities to take advantage of Iberia awards, lower taxes and surcharges and often, more availability ; ) It's not easy, but if you have a plan and an award flight you are trying to book, saving a couple grand can be totally worth it.
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